Sunday Sermon 06-29-14
First Congregational Church
June 29, 2014
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Fourth of July Weekend
Growing Good Corn
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been away for a while, and just in case no one else has really noticed, the morning messages have not started with humor lately. So - what’s red, white, blue, and green? A patriotic turtle! What did one flag say to the other flag? Nothing. It just waved! Why did Paul Revere ride his horse from Boston to Lexington? Because the horse was too heavy to carry!
Despite the general feeling of patriotism, I wonder if part of our “nostalgia” of the 4th of July has to do with memories of when we were kids. I will admit to a bit of envy when I see kids with sparklers on the 4th, because they were not something that was part of my growing up days. But there were fireworks over Lake Ripley - near Lake Wobegone, and even though my sister and I were dog tired, I still remember getting into the green and white 57 Chevy, sitting in the back seat, leaning over the front seat, in jammies, watching the aerial flowers blossom.
Because I grew up in the farm belt of Minnesota, one of the early bits of information I learned is that corn should be “knee-high” by the 4th of July. So when I came across an illustration with the title “Growing Good Corn,” I immediately stole it - title and story, mostly because they lead so naturally into the scripture passage for this morning.
Seems there was this guy named James Bender who wrote a book in 1994 that told the tale about a farmer that grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his best corn in the regional fair where it won a blue ribbon.
One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him to learn how he grew blue-ribbon corn year after year. The reporter discovered that the farmer actually shared his best seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seeds with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition against yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So Jesus was giving instructions to the disciples he was sending out, about how they were to “minister” with nothing but the clothes on their back….
Matthew 10:40-42 The Message
40-42 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
Thank you, Ryan. One of the first things that popped out of that passage was “Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.” I wish that more people could hear those words - from Jesus’ lips - because there is still a strong thread in our society that we have to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” While it is true that we all need to do what we need to do, we forget that sometimes we don’t really need to do what we think we need to do.
One of the pages I really like on Facebook is called “Humans of New York.” Whoever does it, walks up to people, takes a picture and asks them a question. One of those on Friday was of a gentleman that looked older than myself, who had this answer. "Toward the end, my father let me fill out his patient history forms at the hospital. It was the first time and last time he ever let me help him.” I was struck by the sadness in the man’s response. We forget that even when we can do something “ourselves,” we can sometimes do something greater by allowing someone to help us.
When I was little, probably 6 or 7, my dad drove a semi-truck back and forth from Minneapolis to Winnepeg, Canada most every week. The town we lived in was 75 miles west of the Twin Cities, so part of the “ritual” was to take the truck in, drop it off at the warehouse to get loaded with fruits and vegetables, go home, go back a day or so later for the truck, and then dad either went on his way from there or went home for one more night in his own bed.
The warehouse was in a pretty tough part of town, and I can clearly remember the smells of the boxes of fruit in the cool warehouse, the beautiful smell of diesel, and the dismalness of the area. There was one day in particular that I remember a man asking dad for some money for coffee, and dad said, “I’ll go with you and buy you the coffee for you, but I won’t give you the money.” I don’t remember what happened after that, but I remember the words. He would help the man, but not with the potential of buying things that “weren’t good” for him. Dad was clearly offering the cup of cool water, which he did quite often in those days and probably still doea, and was teaching me a lesson at the same time. Since then, I’ve learned that life is more complicated than buying a cup of coffee.
I think there are basically two schools of somewhat opposite thought, when it comes to helping others, especially when it comes to giving money. Suppose you are approached by a homeless person. You can’t be sure they’re homeless, but by their appearance and maybe even their smell, you put two and two together. Now this person asks if you could spare a dollar - or in the old days, money for a cup of coffee.
Maybe the person asks if you could spare a dollar for the bus, or to buy a hamburger, or he or she just needs one more dollar to get a bed in a shelter (who knows if shelters charge money?), or maybe there is no explanation at all. The question is simple. Do you give him or her a dollar - if you have it?
The first school of thought says no, because the person may use that money to buy things that could be harmful to themselves or others. And yes, there are professional beggars in this world. Whatever reason they give in asking for the money doesn’t really matter, because they will use it in whatever way they want anyway. Even if the money is used for a right purpose doesn’t mean that any other money they might have wouldn’t then be freed up for less noble purposes.
The second school of thought says that while we may be right about our suspicions, so what? If we were in that person’s position, an extravagance once-in-awhile may seem reasonable. But what the asker does with our “gift,” is not our business. He or she is a grown person, we are not their parent, social worker or minister and they will need to live with their own conscience. We and they are simply people who encounter each other for a moment in time. I’m not trying to say one school of thought is more “right” than the other. It’s a conundrum.
I’m in this situation a lot, and indirectly, you and all we represent; people asking for help with rent or food or gas. I can strongly suspect what the money will do for the individual. And in his instructions to the disciples, just a few verses before those that Ryan read, Jesus tells the disciples - and us - “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard;”
Rev. Dr. Dan De Leon of College Station, TX once heard a story about a young parish priest visiting with an older priest. (These sorts of illustrations are always helpful, but the older one always seems to have great wisdom.) The young priest mentions the vagrants who come by his church seeking help. He says to his elder, "I know we're supposed to help the poor, but these people are asking for help with a bus ticket or a utility bill or gas money or food. Is that really their story? The last thing they're likely to spend that money on is the bus ticket or the utility bill or the gas tank or food. They'll probably spend it on something the Church doesn't support, something that I certainly don't support." Finally, the young priest says, "It gets exhausting justifying who I'm going to help and why."
The older priest sits back and lets the young priest's words loom in the air like a confession waiting for assurance. Then the older priest says, "What business is it of yours determining who gets help and who doesn't? Why exhaust yourself with that burden? You are a follower of Jesus Christ. Your task, therefore, is simply to share out of the wealth of God's abundance. Your requirement is simply to love others as God loves you. Your job is simply to give.”
One of our “requirements” is to love others as God loves us. Interesting thing about corn - the kernels are tight-packed together, sort of like us. If we want to grow to all that God has seen us to be, then we enter into that conundrum work to which Christ has called us, blessed with the freedom to determine what we do with the gifts God has bestowed on us. So we’d best be to prayin’.
God of abundant hospitality, Jesus tells us that in your house there are many mansions, a place for all of your children. So may our lives become a spacious sanctuary where all who enter it would find peace, rest, and adventure, and be blessed by your love for having been welcomed there. As we have been the recipients of your living water in Christ to the point of our cup overflowing, move us to greater and prudent hospitality so that we would have all we need to carry out Jesus' instructions of offering a cold cup of water to any of your children. Create us to be even better givers and receivers. Raise us up to be wise in the freedoms with which you showered on us. Help us be more like Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Sunday Sermon 06-22-14
First Congregational Church
June 22, 2014
Second Sunday after Pentecost
“How We Are Blessed”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Maybe it’s been all the rain this week, but as I was anticipating the music this morning, and thinking about the scripture passage for today, the illustration of a tropical waterfall came to mind. Maybe you’ve seen one like it on television, where there is a person is normal size is dwarfed by the size of the waterfall, the water falling over the individual, usually a woman, washing her hair, and how the person is continuously doused in water.
It’s easy to appreciate the illustration, when we think about the music that has graced our worship this morning. And it’s good to be so drenched with blessings from time to time. The odd thing about our Scripture passage today, is there can be is similar drenchings of blessings, even if it don’t seem like it.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Thank you Judy and Julie. I think most of us would appreciate the idea that we can’t force any of these states mentioned by Jesus on ourselves or anyone else. We can't force ourselves to be poor in spirit, however that would look. And we can’t force someone to be pure in heart so that they will see God.
But like the disciples that day on the mountainside, we can look around and pray to become more merciful - not that becoming more merciful will guarantee that we will receive mercy - but so that the light of that mercy can shine as an example for those who are in positions of granting mercy. We can pray about how we can be of comfort for those who mourn, and that when there is enough healing that those who mourn can become comfort for still others.
It’s probably way more a working of the Holy Spirit than mere creativity on my part, but these character traits or states are more than words on a page. So they were included on your announcement page, so you can tear them or cut them out to tape on the bathroom mirror for this week. No, I’m not going to do any checking to see if you did it. This is about each one of you - and me.
As you get ready for the day, take one of the attributes, say - those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Who do you know that is persecuted because of doing what they feel is morally right? Take a moment or two to pray about how the kingdom of heaven can come to that person that day. Then take a moment or two to think about how you can act more honorably - regardless of the circumstances. If you need to look up words like meek and righteousness, do it. It’s worth it. If you need to think about what it would mean or look like to thirst and hunger after righteousness, do it.
We will do well, in bringing this passage to life, not to fall into the idea that praying to be blessed is an end-all effort. We are blessed not just because God thinks it’s cool to do, but so that we can pass along the blessings - so that we can shine the light of blessedness on to those who can and will pass it on to others. To be such a blessing is a high and holy calling. So we’d best be gettin’ to the prayin’.
Gracious God, we are deeply grateful for the breadth and height and depth of the blessings you bestow on us. We are some times so involved with our day-to-day lives, that we forget to look for the blessings that you pour out on us. In this coming week, help us to take your message of blessing from paper - to make it a practical part of our lives. Show us the examples and models for whom we can pray, and strengthen each of those blessednesses in each of us. Thank you for your son, who showed us how such blessing can live in our human world. For all your blessings and for being a blessing, all your people say Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 15, 2014
Trinity Sunday, Father’s Day, First Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In homage to Father’s Day, little Ole and Knut were sitting together on the bus going to school. Little Ole said, “I made a bad mistake today and gave my dad some soap flakes instead of corn flakes for breakfast.” Knut: “Was he mad?” Little Ole: “Yup. He was foaming at the mouth!”
Once upon a time, in a beautiful land far away called Minnesota, there was - really - an even more beautiful woman, whose name I can’t remember. But she was a looker, as they say, and had won the Mrs. Minnesota pageant - if I remember correctly, maybe about 20 years ago. I was attending a conference of some sort by Jeff Van Vonderen, who has written several books on mental health and recovery, one of which is called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. This gorgeous, confident, poised woman began her talk telling us about how she had such a negative self-esteem, especially as a teenager, that she had wanted to kill herself. As I listened to her story, I was dumbstruck at the opposite pictures that were being presented: what she looked like on the outside, how she still struggled on the inside.
She went on to share the story of how she had been abused, in all the usual ways, by her brothers, father and uncle, abuse that went on for years. Thankfully, the woman had been rescued from her situation, and started on the long track toward healing and wholeness. It had never occurred to me until that day, that a person with that background would have difficulty with the concept of God as Father. Her reasoning was that if God was anything like her own father, she wanted nothing to do with that kind of God. It took her a while, but she finally found her way back to faith in God, mainly through a church that didn’t focus so much on gender, as on love and the many, many aspects of God.
I am sure there are several of you wondering if I’ve gone completely off my rocker, using such an illustration on Fathers Day, of all days. But I ask you to hold on to any judgement, because it is my hope you will see how this comes around, and why it’s important.
Two weeks ago, “the church” celebrated Ascension Sunday, Jesus rising back to eternity, and last week was Pentecost, the birthing of the church and mission. This week, it’s Trinity Sunday, a day for doing something really odd, because it is the only Sunday that we celebrate a doctrine, and a rather complicated one at that. But actually, as the years have gone on, it’s one I have come to appreciate more and more, and perhaps that may be true for others.
It’s the celebration of one God and three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can find oodles of places in the Bible that mention God as Father, the Son of God and God’s Spirit. But no where does the Bible specifically say that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in Trinity. It comes close to that, in a couple places, but most easily seen at the end of the book of Matthew, right before he ascends back to heaven.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is one of a couple places in the Bible where all three “persons” of God are mentioned but it still doesn’t say that the “Trinity” is one God in three persons.
As I was preparing for the message this week, I came across a guy named David Lose, from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, don’tcha know. His suggestion was rather than try to explain the one God three persons doctrine, it might be more helpful to talk about what Trinitarian congregations look like. He said, “And my short definition of a Trinitarian congregation is one that sees itself as called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed for the sake of the world God created and loves so much.” In other words, it’s understanding that God the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to recognize and believe the Good News of God’s Son, who reveals to us the loving heart and mission of God as Creator and Protector. Maybe part of the reason this idea of celebrating Trinitarian Faith is appealing is because it already feels a lot like what we do.
We come together each week because it’s a long stretch from Sunday to Sunday to remember the nearly too-good-to-be-true news of the Gospel for more than about seven days in a row: that the same God who created us and all that exists, also knows all about us, cares for us and desires for us to us to care for and about the world. It’s not always easy to remember that when someone cuts out in front of you when driving, or someone has said something hurtful to you, or when your favorite sports team fails to win - again. Besides, even after three years of Jesus standing in front of them, performing miracle after miracle, preaching and preaching and preaching, even as our passage says, sometimes the disciples had trouble with issues of faith.
Another mark of Trinitarian faith is that although mountain-top worship experiences are the goal each week, because we feel so much more connected to God and each other, the truth of the matter is that it isn’t always easy to stay with those mountaintop experiences. As much as I am sure that everyone else here shares the joy of this place, it is not where we live. We live on the other side of the windows and doors - with people, family, friends, neighbors, visitors and tourists, check-out people, classmates, all manner of people to whom we are called to live out our faith. Religion would be so easy if it were just about our own little selves. A faith community comes together, believing in the power of what we can do with and for each other - warts and all.
The other trade mark of a Trinitarian congregation is that they discover the real reasons about Jesus’ disciple-making commission and the promise of Christ’s presence. The goal isn’t growing the church for the church’s sake or filling pew seats or offering plates for growth’s sake. The goal is for as many of God’s people to hear just how much God loves and values them - no matter what they look like on the outside. But this is by no means easy. So much of life conspires to make us doubt that we deserve love or respect and we often feel like we face innumerable obstacles, both cultural and personal, in sharing our faith.
Which brings us back to Mrs. Minnesota. Your presence in church, this one or any other one, is not about numbers, but about hearts and souls and being a community where it is okay to doubt and hurt and cry and laugh and sing - being real human beings. Then we live out of the idea that the Creator sent the Word to live among us, that we might better understand Emmanuel - God-with-us - even if we don’t fully understand what that means.
Some of you remember the movie, The Karate Kid. When young Daniel talks Mr. Miyagi into teaching him karate, the “lessons” begin with car-washing and waxing. Miyagi: First, wash all car. Then wax. Wax on...
Daniel: Hey, why do I have to...?
Miyagi: Ah ah! Remember deal! No questions!
Daniel: Yeah, but...
Miyagi: Hai! [makes circular gestures with each hand]
Miyagi: Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important. [He walks away, still making circular motions with hands]
Miyagi: Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.
All summer, Daniel thinks he is wasting his time painting and waxing for the teacher. He thought you had to train in karate moves. Mr. Miyagi was developing the muscles, concentration and skills needed in karate - by other means. Mr. Miyagi was using a sort of koan - a paradoxical anecdote or riddle to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and providing enlightenment, so to speak. That’s the reason for the inclusion of that definition in the bulletin.
I hadn’t thought about it until writing the actual words, but maybe the whole of this morning’s message is an exercise in getting ready to wax on and wax off with the Trinity and the mystery of relationships. I’ve mentioned the extremely interesting Steve Garnaas-Holmes before, Methodist pastor of over 30 years all over the US. Of himself, he says, “I write and perform with the Montana Logging & Ballet Company, a quartet that does music and comedy around the country. I write a lot of church music. My favorite food is toast. Flying geese always stop me in my tracks. I do not act my age. Before today’s message came into being, I knew that his poem called “The Names of God” would be a huge part of this morning’s Trinitarian Faith worship.
He wrote: The Holy Trinity is not a doctrine but a mystery, a koan, the paradox of three persons in one, a meditation on the names of God. Meditate on the mystery. Pray with the names. Let them speak.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Mother, Child, Love Between.
Creator, Christ, Holy Breath.
Source of all Being, Eternal Word, Living Spirit.
Abba God, Only Begotten, Spirit of Love.
Infinite Parent, Infinite Sibling, Infinite Self.
(This is my favorite) The One Beyond, the One Beside, the One Within.
Transcendent Mystery, Healing Presence, Emergent Energy.
Source of Love, Experience of Love, Energy of Love.
Holy One, Holy Many, Holy Us.
Lord of the Universe, Jesus of Nazareth, Heart of my Soul.
Loving Silence, Gentle Word, Abiding Love.
Mystery of Being, Gift of Love, Breath of Life.
Mother, Son, Holy Spirit.
Loving One, Loving One, Loving One.
Let us pray - some more. Glorious God, Son and holy, Holy Spirit, thank you for providing so many ways to get our minds around you and your love and grace and joy. Thank you for loving us when we doubt, when we hurt, when we are wounded, just as much as when we are well, on the mountain and in the groove. Help us to remember that your Trinitarian relationship is not about closing ranks, but opens out to us, that we may be the gentle place for growing disciples for you. And all your people say, Amen.
Sunday Sermon 06-08-14 Pentecost
First Congregational Church
June 8, 2014
Acts 2:1-12, 14, 16-21, 22-24, and 41-42
“In the Beginning, After the First Beginning….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For over 300 years the church’s only holiday was Easter. In the fourth century the church began to celebrate two other events, Christmas and Pentecost. For some reason Christmas has caught on a lot better than Pentecost. To the best of my knowledge, Hallmark does not sell “Merry Pentecost” cards. You probably didn’t even get a very good Pentecost present this year, so the best I’ve got for everyone today is a little homegrown, homemade Pentecost rhubarb sauce for our fellowship time in the lower level.
We get the word “pentecost” from the Old English, where it came from a church latin term, via the Greek term for a Jewish word that meant 50th day - that day being the 50th day after the second day of Passover, which is, coincidentally, the Festival of Shavouth. Do not allow your eyes to glass over, because there will be a test after the sermon today - this day that celebrates the birth of the church.
To set the scene, last week we celebrated Jesus’ ascension back to heaven, the day when Jesus stopped making all those impromptu post-resurrection appearances, the day when he became spiritually present everywhere at the same time, the day when Christ’s ministry was passed on to the disciples - and ultimately to us. Just before Jesus ascended, he told the disciples to wait, and to do nothing, until the Spirit came. Taking his words quite literally, the disciples just stood there, looking up into the clouds until a couple of angels came along to say “He’s coming back, get on with it.”
So they went back to the same upper room where they had their last meal with Jesus, and after a good deal of praying, they finally succumbed to the Congregational temptation to form a committee. Peter mentioned that they couldn’t really be called the twelve disciples anymore because of that unfortunate incident with Judas. In perhaps the first of the most deadly words of the church, “But we have always been the twelve, so we have to find another disciple to fill this unexpired term.” They had a little election. It took two ballots, but finally the lot fell to Matthias. About the time the clerk was enrolling his name with the other eleven, the Spirit came.
Acts 2:1-12 The Message
1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” 12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
Acts 2:14, 16-21 The Message
14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”
Acts 2:22-24, 41-42 The Message
22-24 “Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up.
41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Thank you, Peyton, Kyah and Reagan. In giving the church life, just like then, the Holy Spirit blows individuals in to us that speak other languages: the language of youth and the language of age, the language of singles and that of those who are married, the language of conservatives and that of liberals, the language of those who are delightful and those who cause us to look beyond their language to their hearts. The Spirit blows a lot of folks in to us, and regardless of who they are, it’s our job to care for them.
So we learn to speak the gospel in lots of different languages: the language of the broken who come to church speaking words of lament and who sit right next to those with a new baby who just want to praise. We have to speak in the language of those who are in love with Jesus and find belief easy, as well as those who struggle with unbelief and doubt. We have to speak in the language of those who have always been here and cherish our traditions, but who sit next to those who wouldn’t know a Gloria Patri if it kissed them on the forehead.
It’s also right interesting that the Holy Spirit continues to blow open the doors of the church, not only so others can come in, speaking a variety of tongues, but also so that we can all go out to participate in Christ’s mission beyond the church doors. In spite of all of the fuss about maintaining the identity of the twelve after Pentecost, the term disciple is almost never heard again. Now they are called the apostles, which means those who are sent out.
This calling, mission and job we have as the church may not seem all that important on the surface, but once we begin to know the names of those to whom we are sent, it becomes way more personal. So we meet Anxious, Discouraged, Withdrawn, Left-Behind, Orphaned, Purposeless, Empty, Tired, Doubtful, Powerless, Afraid to Believe. Through the wind of the Holy Spirit, believers are filled, and then sent out, empowered, encouraged, accompanied, and enabled to speak of God’s mighty deeds so that they are miraculously understood by all.
There aren’t many folks who would belittle the importance of names. When we were growing up, I delighted in pointing out that my sister’s name, Barbara, meant “stranger.” She didn’t think my emphasis on the “strange” part was quite as funny.
The apostle Peter, once known as Bumbling, Permanently Puzzled, Denier, Coward, and Asleep on the Job, after that first Pentecost Day, became known as Bold, Confident, Eloquent, Inspired, Evangelist, Fisher of Men and Women.
Of all the millions of possibilities for such transformations and new starts to come about, God decided to use plain, old people, us, complete with warts and all, the honor to work along with the Holy Spirit, to bring about such transformations as Affirmed, Graced, Comforted, Safe, Forgiven, Valued, Familied, Healed, Found, Honored, Seen, Heard, Blessed, Joyful, Empowered, Encouraged, and Beloved.
Just so that we’re clear about what exactly was born on this day, it wasn’t just another institution or religion. What was born was the honor, privilege and power to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth. The apostles weren’t given any maps or directions, other than to be witnesses for Christ. We were never given the power to climb up to heaven and peer into the mind of God. We were given the power to discern what we will do - when what we thought would happen - does not happen - that we may have hope, that we may “be” and that our new names will surprise even our own selves. So ought we pray.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
First Congregational Church
June 1, 2014
Seventh Sunday after Easter
Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
“The Segue of The Ascension”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
According to my research, nearly a third of the American population watches the television program, Jeopardy. I figured that most folks here might be familiar with the program, so if I would throw out an answer, you all could “play together” and come up with the answer.
Answer one, for no money: Filet of sole. (P) What was Jesus’ favorite kind of fish? Answer two: She wasn’t Merry (Mary). (P) How did Martha feel about doing all the housework by herself? The last answer for today: The Prodigal Son. (P) Who was the most famous baseball player in the Bible because he made a home run?
Going back to the old fashioned method of question, then answer, I wondered why the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were put into that order. Why not Mark, John, Luke and Matthew or any of the other fourteen possible combinations? The answer is not so clear-cut, but the most likely answer is that the early Christians probably thought that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reflected what they thought was the chronological order of their composition. It’s a little too bad, because Luke’s ending is the perfect segue into the book of Acts.
Just before our passage in Luke, Jesus’ empty tomb had been discovered and later that day, a couple of disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus “met” them - or “appeared” to them. As they walked along, Jesus gave them a refresher course on the Old Testament passages that pointed to himself as Messiah, when it got late. The two asked “the stranger” to stay with them, and at dinner, Jesus broke bread in that familiar way that they recognized as being Jesus, and then he “disappeared.” The two went back to Jerusalem, just four miles away, to tell the rest of the disciples what had happened. As they are discussing all this, Jesus “pops in” again, and as they are chatting, he asks for a piece of fish - perhaps sole.
Luke 24:44-53 NIV
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Acts 1:1-11 NIV
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Thank you, Ann and Missi. Wikipedia says that a segue is a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next, often taking place between pieces of music. Our two passages are a perfect example of a segue - especially because the two passages were written to Theophilus. There is no complete consensus on good ol’ Theo, but what matters is that the writer of Luke and Acts is most likely the same person, and it’s not often we get to lay two pieces of scripture on top of each other and have them make such sense. (By the way, in the literary world, that last sentence was a douser of a segue.)
These two passages help paint the scene that after Jesus rose from the dead, he was hanging out with the disciples for forty days, popping in and out of their presence at various times. But there was something about his last appearance, about his being “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud” hiding him from their sight, and then two dudes decked in white appearing, that was different. And if it was different, what are the implications?
A lot of us “get” Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, when the Holy Spirit came over the crowd in Jerusalem, inaugurating the birth day of the church. But this Ascension piece isn’t so well known, much to our loss. Because it took place on the fortieth day after Easter, Ascension Day always fall on a Thursday, as it did this past week. And perhaps it is because it doesn’t land on a Sunday and we don’t get presents, that this important day gets overlooked.
Without the Ascension, we might still be looking for Jesus to pop in on us, which would be really nifty, but probably mentally and spiritually exhausting. We might not ever get past the “expectant looking around” to the glorious joy of living in God’s Spirit. Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he would be in one place on earth, but not spiritually present everywhere, as now. Being back with God gives a “completion” that pertains to all of us - dust to dust, from God and back to God.
Because all the disciples were together to see his Ascension, there were no “doubters” left, and so in succession, helping us in our grasp onto Christ’s return to eternity. In seeing this departure of Jesus - that was different from the others - the “ministry” was now passed on - segued - to the disciples - and ultimately us.
So today we get to share in breaking the bread, in that “sense” of familiarity and comfort - with each other. Being together, with the smell of the cup and the bread, aware of those next to us in the pews, we are reminded that we are not alone, that all is right with God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, and just for a while, we can rest in that certainty, just like our favorite chair. So let us put down our burdens, our worries, our cares as we prepare our hearts to have dinner, a la Jesus style.
Sunday Sermon 05-25-14
First Congregational Church
May 25, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Easter
“Keeping on Track”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
First things first: It’s here - finally. Memorial Weekend. I pronounce winter done! And I pronounce summer, well, almost. And in so proclaiming, instead of wrapping ourselves in coats and scarves, this morning we are “wrapped” in joy - the entire book of Philippians.
For those who have been away, May has been Philippians months here. It was convenient that there are four chapters to the little letter the apostle Paul wrote to those who lived in Philippi, and that there are four Sundays in this year’s May. It also seemed to fit so well, an epistle on joy that followed Easter and Holy Humor Sundays.
Paul wrote this letter after a long, convoluted course of events that got him two years of house arrest in Herod’s palace. This imprisonment was not like the one he would later serve, in the inner prison of a jail below the Roman Forum, complete with leg shackles and lack of “facilities,” windows or any kind of air ventilation. It was good that Paul was able to write this letter before his second imprisonment, his first “prison” having good air and food and room, because there’s nothing like saying something and then having to live it - regardless of the circumstances.
Anyway, before we get to the reading of this last chapter, it may help the listening to know that there are four names that will come up that have a real part in the passage. Epaphroditus was a good friend of Paul’s, who was sent by the Philippian church with a “gift”. We don’t know what the gift was, but Paul liked it.
Then there is Syzygus. Great name. Don’t really know who it was. Actually, it may have been another name for a person. Everyone thinks his name is Andrew Mollema, but it’s really Wallace Andre Mollema. So maybe Syzygus is like Andy.
And then there is Euodia and Syntyche. The common thought is that they were sisters, but there is not universal agreement that they were both female, much less sisters. Whoever they were to each other, they were part of the early Philippian church, and they were “not playing well together.” In fact, their discontent was causing others to fall off the track of following Christ.
Philippians 4 The Message
1My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.
Pray About Everything
2 I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.
3 And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.
4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Content Whatever the Circumstances
10-14 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.
15-17 You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity.
18-20 And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.
21-22 Give our regards to every follower of Jesus you meet. Our friends here say hello. All the Christians here, especially the believers who work in the palace of Caesar, want to be remembered to you. 23 Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.
Thank you, Wallace Andre. One of my favorite things is seeing how God works behind the scenes, beyond our efforts, to bring things together for good. Little did I think, all those weeks back, that Philippians 4 is the perfect passage for Memorial Day weekend. I’m also figuring that some of you may have missed those references.
Near the beginning of the chapter, Paul wrote, “These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans.” And then near the end, Paul wrote that the gifts the Philippians had sent were like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end.” Most of us have probably never made the link between that statement and grilling. One of the best surprises is when you catch the scent of someone grilling, and that scent wafting up to God. And after (seriously) remembering veterans, what’s more Memorial Weekend than grilling?
In the first chapter of Philippians the thief of circumstances can rob us of joy. In the second chapter, people can rob us of joy. In the third chapter, things can rob us of joy. When we get to the fourth chapter, Paul deals with the worst thief of them all - the thief of worry. The funny thing about joy is that we tend to think happiness equals joy. We get happiness from circumstances. We get joy from God.
One of the things I appreciate in this chapter, while Paul tells us that worry is a thief, he doesn’t leave us to put up a security system all by ourselves. So he reminds us that we have praise, because when we talk about how good God is - even in the quiet of our minds, we don’t have as much room for worry. And we have prayer, with the same result. When we are praying - especially for someone else, our focus turns from us and our worry, if even for a little bit, which is immensely better than 100% of our mind on worry. Sometimes people forget that God also answers all our prayers. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, sometimes not now, but all our redirection of worry into prayer gets answered.
Another piece of our spiritual surveillance systems is gratitude. Even while under house arrest, Paul was genuinely grateful for people and gifts and God’s own self. We often get the gratitude groove on at Thanksgiving, but we push aside worry when we realize our blessings - any time of year. So at the idea of some preacher or teacher I ran across this week, go ahead and write down your list of 100 Things for Which To Be Grateful. You may not be able to do it in one sitting, but I’m convinced that we all have at least that many things for which we can thank God. When we find the worry wart beginning to grow in our minds, if nothing else, we can pull out this sheet to remind us of what God desires for us, sort of like our own Philippians 4, written to ourselves.
When we started this series, I mentioned that of the whole Bible, my favorite passage is Philippians 4:7. In the pew version of that verse, it says, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I was once on a retreat where that was the theme for the weekend, and while it was a nice thought, I finally realized that I didn’t know what came before the “And.” It’s joy. Not the jump-up-and-down sort of joy that comes when we hear that we’re winning the lottery. And it’s not the joy that we hear when we’re told that we don’t have to pay next year’s taxes.
It’s the deep-down understanding that even if we don’t like it, God really does have our best interest at heart. And it’s the trust that even if we don’t completely understand why God allows thus or such, that God is wiser than we are, and that has to be good enough for us mere humans. And it’s knowing that God surrounds us with not only joy, but love and grace and mercy and all else that is good, even when it doesn’t look that way. Which seems like a thought to be followed by prayer.
Good and Great God of Joy, we thank you for loving us and blessing us and wanting us to be joy-full. And we are grateful for the “things” of the world, like the ability to serve others, being served, those giving of themselves, even through-out history. We are so blessed, and yet sometimes we forget that. So help us, in the week ahead, to walk in the joy you desire for each of us, even if it is hard for us to find the track. And from the depths of our hearts, we thank you for your son, who came not to be served, but to serve. So all your people say, Amen.
Sunday Sermon 05-18-14
First Congregational Church
May 18, 2014
Fifth Sunday after Easter
“Bookkeeping, Runners and Citizenship: Oh My!”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been unable to join us this month, we’ve been working through the book of Philippians. It’s a perfect book to ‘drink in’ after Easter, because of it’s uplifting reminder of what following Christ is all about. If you think of it as an academic review, we’ve had the “psychology” lesson, so to speak, in remembering the necessity of joy in our lives from the first week, along with factors that can attempt to rob us of our joy: circumstances, people and things. We’ve had the spelling lesson around joy in the second chapter of Philippians - j for Jesus, o for others, y for you, and in that order. This week we cover a couple different areas: math, phy ed. and social studies.
Speaking of phy ed., few people realize that there are sports in the Bible. From the very beginning there is baseball - In the Big-Inning God created. And there’s tennis - when Moses served Pharaoh in his court.
Philippians 3 The Message
1And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.
2-6 Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
Focused on the Goal
12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
15-16 So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
17-19 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
20-21 But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Thank you, Andy. To get everyone on the same page - or letter - as the case may be, there were no big issues going on in the Philippian churches. The congregation in Philippi was one of the first established by Paul and Timothy on their first missionary journey. The entire book was likely written by Paul while he was imprisoned for two years for the crime of preaching the Gospel of Christ. While Paul was in prison, the Philippians sent him a gift, by way of Epaphroditus. In essence, Philippians is a rather thank you note. But it contains a lot of encouragement and is “scented” with a great deal of joy - deep, hidden joy as well as immediate and practically visible joy.
So in this third chapter, we get a good dose of Paul’s credentials: as a Roman, as a Jew and as a devoted follower of Jesus. If we were to think of him as a bookkeeper, he gives us a credit side and the debit side, warning us not to put all our time and talents into one side or the other, because they both figure in on the profit column.
We, like Paul, could “credit” our lives by laying out all of the things of which we could boast. “I’m a good person; I pray at church, I manage to tell the truth,” and all sorts of religious credits. Yet despite all the religious “good” he had stored up, Paul realized - in his debit column - that he was lacking; that just going through the motions, being a good Jewish man, (we would say being a good Christian), left him spiritually bankrupt. Without Christ, there was little that was going to help him when the hard parts of life came up. In essence, Paul realized that he would be willing to lose all his “credits” so that he might win Christ, that he might gain - or profit - Christ.
In regards to the profit column, in another version of verse 8 Paul says, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. Because I hang around on Sundays after church, let me tell you - there is a definite joy when the money counters figures add up. And there is a definite prolonged air of frustration when the numbers don’t come out right. To make it very simple: Life plus Christ equals relationship, and that’s makes our faith alive.
Than Paul gives us the phy. ed reminder in likening our life of faith to a runner. It’s interesting that the apostle Paul is such a sports fan. In 1 Corinthians (9:25), he talks about boxing, saying "I'm not a shadow boxer." In the King James Version, he talks about wrestling in Ephesians 6. In this morning’s passages, he mentally revisits a stadium; witnessing a foot race, drawing the comparison that we, in the Christian life, are like runners in a race.
For Paul, his starting line was the Road to Damascus. We all have starting lines when it comes to faith. Some of our lines are very specific, some are so far back in time, it seems as if there never was a time when life wasn’t about pressing on toward the goal.
Sometimes we fall down on the track, and we skin up the palms of our hands and our knees. Many of you have read the story of the Special Olympics race - or some race like it - where one of the members of the race falls to the track, and other runners stop, go back and pick the fallen one up, and run with that one until they finish all together. I think there was a story about that happening at the Boston Marathon this year, too.
In our modern culture, it can feel like we’re surrounded by the messages of win - no matter what, the last one really is the rotten egg, the winner takes it all. Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us that the joy is not in “winning”, but in the finishing the race. I don’t think Paul is saying that we shouldn’t have winners and losers in foot races. But in the realm of faith and spirituality, we all need to keep helping each other, or no one will win, and we could all fall over when the starting gun is shot, our joy scared to death.
In the last part of Philippians 3, we have Paul’s Social Studies lesson. Incidentally, in a nifty little definition: civics is dealing with rights and duties of citizens, social studies is study of social relationships and functioning of society. We get that lesson from the intersection of easy street and the cross in our scripture passage. As followers of Christ, we belong to an heavenly-minded eternity while living on an earthly-minded planet.
In another letter to the Colossians (3:2), Paul says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Sometimes when “earthly things” are not going so well, we can find the ability to press on when we remember that we will be living in eternity, where earthly things will not really matter. Sometimes when we’ve just been figuratively kicked in the gut, we can be left wondering if this “race” we’re on is worth all the pain. That’s when we need to remember that our time here is such a minuscule part of our total existence. I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but the older I get, the more “life” that happens, the more I need that reminder of where I have my citizenship.
When we remember our citizenship, it is easier to remember our rights and duties as such inhabitants. Once in a while, when I’m out fishing, I might see an object floating in the water that doesn’t belong there - a styrofoam cup, a plastic bag, a boat paddle. I don’t own the lake, I don’t own any property around any lake, but as a citizen of this world, it is incumbent on me to pick it out of the water - regardless of how it got in there. It is not for me to judge the person that is behind that foreign object, but it is my duty to do what I can do, and most all of us know what we can - and can’t do - in most situations.
When we do what we know is right - in large part because of the realm of which we are citizens, there is a certain joy that comes into being, spreading around our hearts, fortifying and strengthening our hearts in ways we might not otherwise imagine. When we do our “civic” duty - most especially as citizens of heaven, our joy doesn’t allow our chests to puff up or our arms to be longer - to pat ourselves on our backs.
Sometimes we have to walk away from our spiritual abacus’ - or would that be abaci? Sometimes we have to set down on the track of life so we can get back up and continue the race. Sometimes we have to retreat to our own little pity planets for the healing of citizenship to begin. But always there is Christ, always there is grace, always there is prayer. So shall we?
Gracious God of numbers, tennis shoes and passports, we are grateful for this day and this chapter of Philippians, to remind us that you created us as humans. Sometimes life can seem to get the best of us, but help us to see the bigger picture, what is really important in terms of all of life, and how we best continue our own, true journeys of faith. Help each of us to be better than we think we can be, to be true followers of your Son, and reflectors of your love, mercy, grace and most certainly, of your joy. We pray all these things in the name of your Son Jesus, as we all say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.